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Electronic Mail

What is Electronic Mail?

Electronic mail, or Email, is the term used to describe the tool which allows one computer user to send a message to one or more other computer users over a computer network in a digital form. Email can be sent internally to members of an organization through their internal computer network or they can be sent externally to anyone in the world by using the network of computer networks that make up the internet.

It's very similar to our traditional mail system with post boxes, post offices, envelopes and addresses. The difference is that instead of Australia Post delivering your messages around the globe for you, messages are sent electronically to other computer users via the computer network (the internet) taking a fraction of the time to get there AND, you don't have to walk to the letter box!

Just as you can send attachments with your letters in the normal post (snail mail) you can also send computer documents, graphics, software or anything else that can be turned into a digital form attached to an email message.



How does it Work?

In order for messages to be sent from one computer to another, your message needs to be converted into a digital form and forwarded to a computer that acts as a mail server or post office. This mail server sorts and directs your mail for you. The only way this mail server can direct mail though, to all users is by being connected to a network that all the users are also connected to.

This network can be internal (a stand-alone network) which means you can only send email to other users on that network. If your mail server is connected to the Internet you can also send your email messages to any other computer user that is connected to the internet anywhere in the world because the internet is a network of all the little networks of organizations around the world.

This mail server can be within your organization or with an Internet Service Provider, so you would connect to it by logging into your email account. When you send your email message, the mail server decides whether the message is to be passed on to a user on its immediate network or it will pass it onto another mail server on another network closest to it through these combination of networks and each mail server keeps passing it on until it reaches its intended destination. This is known as the 'store' and 'forward' system, storing your message at various points on the path to its receiver waiting for the link to be free for it to forward your message on the next part of its journey.

The digital data can be broken up and follow different paths (go through different mail servers) to gets to its destination but always meets up when it gets to the post office or mail server of the recipient. The mail will stay at the post office until the recipient decide to collect it which is done by logging into their email account.



What Do You Need?

Email Software

In order to read or send any electronic mail you will need special software.

Eudora is one of the most commonly used software packages and comes in two versions. Eudora Lite can be downloaded from the Eudora website and used without charge. Eudora Pro - a more advanced version of the software can be purchased from most leading software suppliers. The Eudora website can help you locate a supplier closest to you. Eudora can be used on both IBM compatible and Macintosh computers. Microsofts Outlook Express is also a popular email software package.

Web browsers like Netscape and Explorer now have an email function also but they are not as sophisticated and reliable as Eudora and Internet Exchange. One benefit of this type of email package is that where addresses of World Wide Web pages are given in the body of the message you can click on the address and the browser will automatically display the page. Eudora also has this ability.


Email Account

To become an email user you need to have an email account set up for you by an Internet Service Provider or your organization. This would normally occur automatically when you get your internet connection if you're setting up your account privately. With a school or business you would normally gain access to email by talking to your technical advisor where a user account will be set up for you. When you get your account you will be given an email address, a Username and a password which you would use to access your email.

You can obtain free email accounts through certain web sites on the internet. You check your mail through your web browser by looking at a web page, typing in your name and password. These types of services are nowhere near as secure as having your own email software on your own computer and can be slow with delays. They are free though and provide additional services such as receiving regular news from various sites of your choosing. One such site is the Hotmail Site.

Email Address

Each email user is given an email address which distinguishes them from each other like your name and street address distinguish your house from your neighbors. Your email address is usually your Username or User ID, plus the domain name of the computer through which you normally gain access to the internet with an @ symbol in-between.. - (sofweb@edumail.vic.gov.au). As you can see here my Username is 'sofweb' and the domain name for the Department of Education, Employment and Training (where I work) is edumail.vic.gov.au . Your Username doesn't necessarily have to be your real name it can be a variation or any name of your choosing - eg. (wizard@edumail.vic.gov.au)

Setting Up Your Email Account

After Downloading your Email Software and setting up your email account with your Internet Service Provider, you need to set the software up with details like your Username, password, email address and mail server. The Internet Service Provider will normally give you all of this information which you will need to include in the set up. With Mac or Windows 95 you follow the prompts and include the details the provider has given you. If you are not setting your account up privately your technician should do all of this for you.

With free email accounts like Hotmail you do not need to download any software and the instructions are usually simple to follow, and provided on the website.


Understanding Domain Names

A domain name is the Internet address of a computer. All computers connected to the internet have a domain name. Your computer itself may not have a domain name but the computer that you connect to firstly to enable you to gain access to the internet will have a domain name. For example you may connect to the internet through a computer which is called a server belonging to your organization or through your Internet Service Providers server. By having a domain name all computers on the internet are able to locate each other and forward messages and requests.

When you specify an email address or IP address of a website it accesses the server/computer by the domain name that you specify by accessing a database known as a DNS Name Server. You may have seen the error messages "No DNS Entry" before when typing in a web site address. This means it is unable to locate the domain address of the computer where the web page is that you specified.

A domain name is separated by periods (.) and will normally include the name of the organization (or an acronym of it), for example the domain name for SOFWeb is www.sofweb.vic.edu.au, this includes our name (SOFWeb), which is in Victoria (VIC) which is part of the Department of Education, Employment and Training (EDU). Two-letter country codes are used, such as AU for Australia .

The email system at the Department of Education uses names such as sofweb followed by @edumail.vic.gov.au which is the domain name of the server/computer that forwards electronic mail to each user on the network.


Interpreting Email Addresses

Standard naming rules are used for domain names which show the type of organizations and country the people have internet accounts with, and because of this you can remember email addresses as well as web site addresses with greater ease. You can also work out where a person comes from by looking at the email address.

For example, if you received an email message from J.Smith@zoo.org.au you could tell from the domain name that this message came from Australia (AU) from a non-profit organization (ORG) which is the Zoo which is an acronym for Melbourne Zoo.

Here is a sample of some of the standard naming rules used.

Name Description
com Commercial Organizations
edu Educational Institutions
org Non-profit organizations
net Networks
gov Non-military government organizations
mil Military government organizations
int International organizations
Name Description
au Australia
uk United Kingdom
fr France
In some cases email addresses do not include a country code. This is often the case with email addresses of users from the United States but this is also becoming more common in other countries.



Sending Email

Email messages are often less formal than letters and can sometimes be as short as one single word. Because it is treated more casually than a formal letter sometimes people aren't as careful with what they say in an email message. You should refer to our Netiquette guide and Email Style Guide for some tips on writing your email messages.


Anatomy of an Email Message

Recipients Name & Address

You can't send email without having the other person's full email address. Without it its like mailing an envelope without any address on it. Just as you would put the person's name and address on the envelope, you would put their email address, comprised of their Username and domain name, on the email message. You can include their real name in the message also.


Most email packages allow you to set up an email address book so that you only need to click on the person you would like to send the message to once you have put them in your book. All you need to do is use the automatic addressing feature to transfer the address to your new message.

As you would normally put your return name and address on the back of an envelope so the message can be returned to you if there is a problem - you can include this on your email software when you set it up so it does the same with the email messages you send.



If you type in the subject, this subject header will show up on their email program so that they get an idea of what your message is about - you can type in Urgent! to let the recipient know to open it right away.


Time & Date

The email program automatically puts in the time, the date.


Main Body

This is where you type the main body of your message. Check out Style Guide for some tips on writing your messages.


Documents can also be attached to email messages. To attach a document or other type of digital file to an outgoing message, select Attach File from the Message menu.. A standard dialogue box will be displayed. Select the document you want to send and click OK. The location of the file will appear after the Attachments: field of the header. When the message is sent the attachment will be located and sent also.
Receiving Attachments - Select the directory or folder you want the attachments to be saved to. You can do this by going to Settings menu, then clicking of Attachments, followed by the box under Attachment Directory. Select a directory/folder for your attachments to be saved into. If you do not select a specific directory, incoming attachments will be saved into the Eudora directory.
BEWARE!! When you are sending attachments please ensure that the person you are sending to will be able to "read" (open) the file. Check to find out if they have the correct software and the correct version of that software. If in doubt save word processor documents as .rtf - most word processors can read this type of file, although you may lose some formatting in the process.

CC (carbon copy)

You can forward a copy of your message to the user you include here. All you need to do is include their email address in this section.


BCC (blind carbon copy)

This field allows you to send to send a copy of a message to someone else without the original recipient knowing.



Checking for Email

To check if there is any new mail you have to login to your email software with your account. To do that you open the software, your Username will automatically come up and your password will be requested. After you type in your password your email program will connect to your mailbox at your post office to see if there is any mail waiting for you. If there is it will download the messages to your computer and tell you you have new mail. You click on OK, and then just click on the new messages that you have to open them. You can tell they are new by the unopened markers next to them.


If you want to make the best use of email make sure to check regularly for incoming mail and reply as soon as possible. The benefit of email is its ease of use in sending, receiving AND replying promptly.


Remote Access

You don't have to use the same computer to access your email, you can access it remotely from other computers as long as the computer has email software and you know the domain name of your mail server and your user details.


Reply Command

The email program has an automatic reply command, which will instruct it to prepare an email reply to go to the sender of the email. The program automatically insert the senders email address, and by default the same subject header. You have the option of including the original text in the message when you reply so that you can refer to points in it.


Bounced Email

Occasionally you will get email returned to you that has "bounced", this happens if you type the address incorrectly or the user has cancelled their account. It will be returned to you with an error message telling you why it couldn't be delivered like - "this message could not be delivered as there was no email account or mail box for this person". It is very important to get the address exactly right including all underscores and full stops.

Email In The Classroom

Electronic Mail in the classroom is an exciting adventure for both students and teachers. Some of the benefits of using electronic mail include:


  • Students are writing messages for a purpose and a real audience
  • Increased focus on literacy
  • Increased motivation
  • Co-operative team work
  • Less emphasis on teacher-directed learning
  • Improved research skills
  • Increased communications
  • Provides stimulus for students to learn about other cultures
  • Increased comprehension, hand-eye coordination and typing skills
There are many fun and educational projects can be joined through the Global Classroom Project site.


Email Lists

What is an e-mail discussion list?

An electronic mail list is simply a discussion group which operates via electronic mail. In its simplest form an e-mail list can be a small number of people who send mail backwards and forwards to each other, possibly a professional group, or people with a particular interest in common. Imagine that at one stage this group of people decided to formalize things a bit, and appointed one person to operate as the maintainer of the discussion. One way of doing this would be for that person to maintain the list of e-mail addresses of the other members. Then each member of the list who wanted to join in the discussion would forward their message to that one person, who would then distribute it to everyone else.

This would work quite well if there were only a small number of participants, but what if the discussion was so interesting that lots of people wanted to join in? It would become a lot of work for the person who was running the list. In order to make life simpler for the person who runs the list (the list owner), there are several kinds of software which automate the running of an e-mail list, including enrolling new members (subscribing), removing members (un-subscribing), changing mail preferences and distributing the messages.

There are several different kinds of software which do this, one of the most common is known as Listserv software, so you will often see e-mail discussion lists called Listservs, after this software. However there are other kinds, including Majordomo. All of this list software operates in a similar fashion, so once you have learned how one kind works, it is easy to learn the others if you need to.


How does a list work?

Simply, once you have subscribed to the list (see below), all you need to do is send your mail message to the list's address and your message will be automatically distributed to every other member of the list.


Why would I join one?

Electronic mail lists are an excellent way of participating in discussions with people who share an interest in your particular subject area. They are a good way of keeping up with the latest developments in your field by belonging to a network of people all over the world who are working in your area. You can share ideas or concerns, ask questions, find out about research, conferences or professional development activities and discover what is going on in other regions, states or countries

Electronic mail is a relatively low cost form of communication and e-mail lists are free. It costs you nothing except your dial-up time to subscribe and participate. The only cost you might find is in time, if you join a high volume mail list, or find yourself participating in a lot of discussions!

For people who may be isolated from other professional networks because of distance, or for any other reason, electronic mail lists are an excellent way of remaining in touch with your colleagues, researchers in your field and other interested people.


Where do I find a list?

There are tens of thousands of e-mail lists in the world covering a huge variety of subjects. If you are looking for a list in a particular subject area here are some places to look. PAML, (Publicly Accessible Mail Lists) at: http://www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/ has possibly one of the most comprehensive lists of electronic discussion lists on the web. Another place to look is LIZST at: http://www.liszt.com/ where you can search more than 66, 000 lists for one that interests you.


How do I join a list?

Once you have found a list you need to let the list know that you want to join in the discussion by subscribing to the list. You do this by sending a subscription message (request to join the list) to the list address. The subscription message will vary depending on which list administration software is being used.

Here is a table of the subscription messages for the major list administration software.

Package Command
LISTSERV subscribe listname yourfirstname yourlastname
LISTPROC subscribe listname yourfirstname yourlastname
MAILBASE join listname yourfirstname yourlastname
MAJORDOMO subscribe listname

Depending on the list you will get a message back, either letting you know that you are subscribed to the list, or that your subscription to the list has gone to the list owner for approval. Some lists are moderated or closed lists, which means that the list is open only to a particular group of people, or that all messages sent to the list need to be approved by the list owner before they circulate to other members. Note that most lists are publicly accessible, so that all you need to do is send your subscription message in order to be allowed to join.

All e-mail lists have two addresses. One address is that of the automatic list software (for example listserv or majordomo), the other is the address to which you send your messages when you want to participate in the discussion. The first address will have the name of the e-mail software as the first element, (the bit before the @). The second address has the same element after the @ as the first address, but the bit before the @ is the name of the list. So if we invent a listserv called list-l, which is held at an address called address.edu.au, the two addresses would be:

listserv@address.edu.au and list-l@address.edu.au.
The first address is where you send your subscription detail, the second address is where you can send your messages to join in the discussion.

An easy way to sort this out is to think of the e-mail list as a club you want to join. Most clubs will have a secretary who is responsible for such things as requests to join, membership subscriptions, changes of address and other administrative details. This is the equivalent of the first address (majordomo@edx1.educ.monash.edu.au). However, if you wanted to submit an article to the club's newsletter you wouldn't send it to the secretary, you'd send it to the person responsible for that particular activity, possibly the newsletter editor. This is the equivalent of the second address (called the list address), the one where you send your thoughts, comments, information and questions.

It is important that you are sure of the difference between the two addresses because if you try and send a question to the majordomo address you will simply get an error message back, while if you send a query about your subscription to the list address you won't get any action.

One important thing to remember about subscribing to a list is that in order to use the list, you need to send any messages, to either address, from the original e-mail address you subscribed from. It is the equivalent of having the club's newsletter sent to your home address, if you move and don't let the secretary know you have changed addresses, you will no longer get your mail. So if you change e-mail addresses you will have to unsubscribe from the list using your old address and resubscribe using your new address. If you send a message to the list and get a reply saying that you are no longer subscribed to the list, check to make sure that you are sending your message from the e-mail address you used to subscribe.


What other things do I need to know?

There are other commands you can send to the majordomo which can be very useful to know. One of the most useful, and the easiest to remember is the word HELP. If you send a message to you majordomo address with just this in the body of your message you will receive a list of the commands that majordomo recognizes, including instructions for subscribing and un-subscribing.

But remember that their is more to e-mail than just joining a list, you need to remember that there are real people on the other end of the list. This is where Netiquette is important.


Style Guide for Email

Because e-mail is fast and easy to use, there is a tendency to write before you think. In order to make and keep friends using e-mail it is a good idea to learn about Netiquette, but it is also important to learn a few e-mail style guidelines which will make your messages welcome in the mail boxes of your correspondents.


  • Most e-mail programs are strictly text only, and use only the letters, numbers and keyboard punctuation marks, without any of the formatting you are used to being able to use in word-processing.


  • Keep it short. Unformatted text is not particularly easy to read on screen, so your chances of someone reading your whole message are better if you keep it as concise as possible. The length of a message might not seem important if you don't get much mail, but for people who receive a lot of e-mail there may not be time to read long messages.


  • If you need to write a longer message, flag it in the subject line of the message, ie "Why the Cat in the Hat Came Back (long)". This way people know that it's a long message and can decide whether they have time to read it immediately.


  • Always use a subject line and try and make it as relevant as possible to your message. This is the first part of the message anyone sees when they open their e-mail program and many people choose whether or not to read the message on the basis of the subject line.


  • A whole screen of text is not easy to read either, so try and break your message up into short paragraphs with breaks in between. White space makes text easier to read.


  • For much the same reasons don't use all capitals in a message. In the culture of cyberspace, messages written in all capitals are seen as shouting. This is because a message composed entirely of capital letters is uncomfortable to read. It's okay though to use all capitals IF YOU WANT TO EMPHASIZE SOMETHING, as long as it's not a whole message.


  • There are other ways of creating emphasis. You can use *.* to indicate italics. This can be *very useful*.


  • If you want to underline you can use underscores _. For example if you wanted to underline the title of a book, _The Cat in the Hat_.


  • Keep your line length shorter than 80 characters and preferably no longer than 60 characters. Otherwise when your message is received it might break
    strange places
    which is
    very irritating to read.


  • If you are sending a message to a mailing list, don't start your message with a space. Some mailing lists gather a group of messages together and send them to subscribers all at once (this is called a digest). A message with a space at the beginning can cause the digest to truncate at your message.


  • Always include your name and e-mail address at the bottom of your message. Some mail programs don't receive the message header which generally includes your name and e-mail address, so if they wanted to answer you they might not be able to.


  • Some people have created remarkable signatures from simple ASCII text, but they tend to be quite large. Try and keep your signature file to no more than four lines. Some people have to pay for their e-mail by the amount they download, so it is considerate to save message size by keeping your signature short.

    If you receive a message with what looks like a signature file but you can't make any sense of it, try and change the font on your browser to a proportional font such as Courier, (a proportional font is one in which each character takes up the same amount of space in a line).


  • There are other ways of adding personality and meaning to your e-mail message, these are known as emoticons and acronyms.


  • If you are responding to a previous message, quote the relevant bit of the post you are replying to in your own message and if possible quote the name of the sender. Don't go overboard and re-post the entire thing, but give enough information so that it is clear what you are talking about.

    For example:

    Last week Jane Austen wrote:
    >If you are responding to a previous message,
    >quote the relevant bit of the post your are replying too
    >in your own message.


Emoticons & Acronyms

There are many ways of adding personality and meaning to your e-mail message, these are known as emoticons and acronyms. There are lots of them, but the most common are the ones to indicate humor. There is the smiley face :-) (try looking at it sideways), the grin, and the very big grin . Try some of these in your messages.

FOFL Fall on the floor laughing IRL In real life  
LOL Laugh out loud YMMV Your mileage may vary
ROTFL Roll on the floor laughing ITRW In the real world
TTFN Ta ta for now BTW By the way
Grin Grin, joking BG Big grin
VBG Very big grin RTFM Read the flaming manual
TIA Thanks in advance IMHO In my humble opinion
IMNSHO In my not so humble opinion IOW In other words

:-) Smile, "I'm joking" :-( Frown, "I'm not happy"  
:) Smiley for lazy typists :( Frown for lazy typists
;-) Wink, a sly grin :-O Shocked
* Kiss { } [ ] Hugs
{{{***}}} Hugs and kisses :-P Sticking out your tongue
:,-( Crying :-| Can't decide how to feel


State of Victoria (Department of Education, Employment & Training)
Initiative of the SOFWeb Project

Contact: SOFWeb

Last Updated: August 11, 2000
Return to the SOFWEB Page Return to Top of Page


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